Critical States : Aesthetic Approaches to Catastrophe - Université Bordeaux Montaigne

Critical States : Aesthetic Approaches to Catastrophe

Crédits ECTS : 6

Volume horaire CM : 12

Volume horaire TD : 12

Effectif maximal : 25

Code ELP : MIA1Y25

Composante : UFR Langues et Civilisations

Période de l'année : Automne

Formes d'enseignement : Non accessible à distance


1. The Art of Catastrophe at the Turn of New Millennium Britain (Stéphanie Ravez)
The first half of this seminar, under Mme Stéphanie Ravez’s supervision, will focus on the impact of catastrophe on British artists in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, natural disasters or the crisis of capitalism. Exploring works taken from genres as diverse as cinema, visual art, theatre or fiction, the seminar aims to show the endurability of old apocalyptic and dystopian motifs as well as their specific handling from a British perspective. Other lines of enquiry for this course include the differences between the American and British approaches to the representation of contemporary catastrophe or the significance of trauma in contemporary art and writing.
The turn of the 21st century not only meant another fin de siècle but a fin de millénaire, a moment “long anticipated by science fiction and apocalyptic visionaries” which “resulted in a period of anxious reflection on the myriad possible developments, advancements and challenges of the unchartered future” (Fiona Tolan, New Directions: Writing Post 1990. London, York Press, 2010; 229). Several disastrous events (9/11, 7/7, the 2008 financial crisis, environmental disasters) marked the beginning of the 21st century for Britain and the rest of the World, so much so that catastrophe has become “something of a way of life for us. Indeed, it has become the new norm for civilization.” (John David Ebert, The Age of Catastrophe, McFarland, 2012 ;1). Yet, if the first decade of the new century had its share of horrors, disasters and misery, this constituted in no way a watershed in contemporary global history. Although a course on art, cinema, literature and catastrophe at the dawn of the new Millennium would suggest that the works selected bear on events posterior to 2000, specifically engaging, for instance, with Islamist terrorist attacks, climate change, or the economic crises of 2008, it would be misleading to consider the post-millennium British artistic output exclusively in light of these historical and thematic landmarks. As Fiona Tolan writes, “there exists a more broadly conceived field of post-millennial dystopias” (231) which extends backwards and forward, i.e. outside the narrow time-frame of the first decade of the 21st century. In other words, there are other ways to suggest and tackle catastrophe outside strictly contemporary boundaries and the centennial rupture should not be taken too seriously. Thus, none of the works under consideration breaks new ground in the production of their authors but all are more or less a direct continuation of previous endeavours. For instance, Edward Bond’s Crime of the 21st century belongs to a series of plays started in the mid-90s where the playwright explores bleak, dystopian visions of human societies collapsing under military control and blind consumerism. Similarly, Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins is part of a trilogy of documentary films begun in 1994 (London, Robinson in Space 1997), which investigates the disastrous impact of the market on land and society. As for Martin Amis, though he made his hatred of terrorism his main banner call after September 11 (see his collection of newspaper articles titled The Second Plane, 2011), he also claimed that his own war against terror was part of a wider criticism of masculinity that all the novels he has written since 1973 bear witness to. Chronology apart, the pessimistic worlds described by Bond or Amis clearly belong to a well-established tradition of Western dystopian literature starting with Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in the 18th century, with an ever growing body of texts published after the second world war. As for the Chapman brothers, who certainly stretch the boundaries of artistic ‘good taste’ to the limit, they themselves invoke the influence of Goya and Nietzsche upon their horrific & hilarious installations. Shock tactics, laughter and the search for empathy are in fact the three main common responses to catastrophe that we will explore in studying the works on the syllabus.

2. “From Partition Literature to the Post-post-colonial Novel” (Paul Veyret)
The six sessions of this seminar will focus on the partition of the British raj into two nations, India and Pakistan. Three novels dealing with the events surrounding partition will be the subject of study and are therefore compulsory reading:
Khushwant Singh, Train to Pakistan (1956; available from Penguin Books),
Bapsi Sidhwa, Cracking India (1991; US edition: Milkweed)
Mohsin Hamid, Moth Smoke (2000; Penguin 2011 edition).
Each of these novels have in their own right, and for different reasons, acquired the status of “cult” novels in South Asian and are considered as time-defining works.
Partition was the direct inspiration for Singh’s and Sidhwa’s novels who although they were only indirect participants of the tragedy use realism as a means of exploring the trauma of the separation of the British empire and the subsequent foundation of Pakistan as a haven for South Asian Muslims. Moth Smoke belongs to an altogether different generation of South Asian writers who have a more nuanced approach to Partition and post-colonial issues.
First we shall the geopolitical implications of Partition, as catastrophic postcolonial event, then we shall look at the circumstances of the creation of Pakistan as a new, sovereign state whose history is still deeply conditioned by this tragic event. Then we shall explore how Partition became the object of a tyranny of silence in Pakistan. The study of the third novel will focus on the place of Pakistani fiction as an example of “post-postcolonial fiction” and how it represents the contradictions of its past and of its geopolitical “critical” state.

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